In East Texas, two Republican elected officials find themselves in a heated and expensive contest to represent a newly drawn district.
State Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, and Marshall Mayor Chris Paddie are pitted in a high-dollar slugfest over House District 9. Conservative PACs have thrown their weight behind the candidates, spending thousands of dollars to help the men tout their own conservative values and attack the other’s. But Christian said he’s fighting more than just a primary opponent; the House leadership, he contends, has it in for him.
“It’s a pretty intense race,” said Chad Sims, Harrison County's GOP chairman. “They both have major strengths.”
Christian’s is his experience in the Legislature, Sims said. He has served in the House since 1997, and he is known as a staunch social conservative. In the 2011 legislative session, he was among the most vocal proponents of slashing state dollars for Planned Parenthood clinics. And he nearly brought a special legislative session to a halt with a controversial amendment that would have banned state funding for gender and sexuality centers at public universities.
“The proof’s in the puddin’,” Christian said during a recent campaign speech posted on YouTube, in which he compared himself to a football coach. “If you want to do what’s best for your local community, you put the best in control so that you can win the most.”
Among Christian’s supporters are some of the most high-profile conservative groups in Texas, including the Texas Association of Business, Empower Texans and Texans for Lawsuit Reform. He has raised more than $244,000 since December, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports, and has spent more than $207,000 on his campaign. On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry was in East Texas stumping for the legislator.
“I’m a proven conservative, proven pro-business, a realtor by history,” Christian said.
His own experience working in real estate and as an advocate for realtors is what has Christian shocked and personally offended by the group that is spending tens of thousands of dollars attacking him.
The Texans for Responsible Government Political Action Committee, supported almost entirely by the Texas Association of Realtors, has taken direct aim at Christian. The group has spent more than $195,000 in advertising and other campaign efforts against Christian, who they say has not championed private property rights and real estate issues.
The group said Christian supported bills that would've raised taxes on homeowners, and that he opposed a measure that would have ensured independence for tax appraisal boards.
“He doesn’t share our views on homeownership,” said Joe Stewart, the PAC’s treasurer.
The group’s televised attack ads, which have left Christian incensed, tell viewers that the lawmaker drives “fancy foreign cars from big campaign donors,” that he has made a practice of double-dipping — using both campaign funds and state funds for the same expenses — and that he has used his position as a legislator to pass bills that directly benefit him.
Christian has said the attacks are out of line, and he questioned the real motive behind the attacks. He said he has long supported realtors and their issues, even sponsoring a resolution in their honor. But he hasn’t supported Republican House Speaker Joe Straus. Christian was one of 15 conservative Republicans who voted against the more moderate San Antonio legislator when he was re-elected to lead the House last year.
“There’s more to this story,” Christian said.
Past House speakers, he said, have typically supported incumbents in their own party. But Straus has not stepped up to support him. Not that his help would mean much, he added. “Quite frankly, I don’t think their caliber would be appreciated out here in East Texas.”
Straus spokesman Jason Embry said the speaker was unaware of the PAC that is opposing Christian.
“Speaker Straus supports all incumbent Republicans and doesn't even know what that group is, other than what he reads about them,” Embry said.
Paddie said his biggest asset in the race is his track record during four years on the Marshall City Commission, where he said he worked well with others to get things done. Christian may have tenure in the House, but Paddie said those years haven’t amounted to much for the people who live in the district deep in East Texas.
“How many years you’ve served doesn’t change the fact that there are 150 people in the House of Representatives, and you have to be able to work with others,” Paddie said.
Since December, Paddie has raised more than $250,000 and spent more than $225,000. And he’s gotten his fair share of major endorsements, including a nod from the Texas Medical Association.
Among his biggest donors is state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, who contributed $10,000.
A former mayor himself, Eltife said he supports Paddie because he has worked with him on community issues before the Legislature. His support for Paddie, Eltife said, shouldn’t be seen as opposition to Christian. Before redistricting, he said, their districts did not overlap, so he hadn’t had many occasions to work with the legislator. The city of Marshall is at the center of the new district, and Eltife said Paddie knows the issues that affect residents there.
“I think what matters is someone who really has the pulse of the local community,” Eltife said.
When it comes to the major issues, though, there isn’t much space between the two conservative Republican candidates. Sims, the Harrison County GOP chairman, said the district would be in good hands with either of the men. But whose hands will be raised in victory on Tuesday night, he said, is anybody’s guess.
“It’s pretty evenly matched,” Sims said. “I don’t think anybody has a great idea about which way it’s going.”